#OutaboutNC: Top Civil War Landmarks and Attractions near Wilmington, N.C.

2015 is a big year for North Carolina, especially for lovers of civil war history history. 

Civil War Landmarks and Attractions near Wilmington, N.C.

When it comes to civil war history, Wilmington and its beaches are among the most historically significant destinations in the United States. Even if you can't make this big event, there's still a lot of civil war history to see. 

Until the last few months of the Civil War, Fort Fisher kept North Carolina’s port of Wilmington open to blockade-runners supplying necessary goods to Confederate armies inland. When Fort Fisher fell after a massive assault on January 15, 1865, its defeat helped seal the fate of the Confederacy. 

The Confederate forces surrendered, opening the way for a Federal thrust against Wilmington, North Carolina, the South’s last open seaport of the Atlantic coast. Union troops moved inland and occupied homes and structures.

Civil  War Landmarks near Wilmington, N.C. (Fort Fisher)

I worked in Wilmington, N.C. for five years in television. At the time, I was too young to appreciate the town's history. I look forward to going back with my family now to experience the history of this beautiful city, and it's coastline. Wilmington is about two-hours from Raleigh, and even though you can visit the city in one day, I suggest taking a long weekend or an entire week long beach vacation so you can mix relaxation with sightseeing.

The following are some important Wilmington landmarks and attractions with civil war history that may interest the history buff.  I believe travel is an open classroom for learning, and this would be a good place to start.


Bellamy Mansion, a fine example of antebellum architecture, was completed on the eve of the Civil War and occupied by Federal troops during the 1865 occupation of Wilmington. The mansion now serves as a museum of history and the design arts, offering daily tours and educational/cultural programs year-round. Tour the magnificent 10,000-square-foot home, visit the meticulously-recreated gardens, and walk through the recently restored Slave Quarters, one of very few preserved urban slave quarters in the country. 

Cameron Art Museum is located on the site where the Battle of Forks Road was fought in February, 1865A NC Civil War Trails historical marker identifies the location of the “Forks Road Engagement” where Major General Robert F. Hoke made his last stand against Union soldiers comprised primarily of U.S. Colored Troops. Each year in February the museum reenacts this significant 3-day skirmish with a Civil War Living History weekend event (Feb. 7-8, 2015). 

Cape Fear Museum of History & Science, N.C.’s oldest history museum, was founded in 1898 by the United Daughters of the Confederacy to preserve Civil War history. Its collection includes an interactive diorama of the Battle of Fort Fisher and hundreds of artifacts, many of which will be on display in a special collections exhibit Fort Fisher: 100 Years from Dec. 15 through July 13

Fort Fisher State Historic Site  Fort Fisher is a state historic site that welcomes visitors year-round to explore the Civil War battlefield and gigantic earthworks, museum exhibits, outdoor monuments, and a 1/4 mile interpretive trail around the fort. Educational programs and artillery demonstrations are offered throughout the year. The Fort’s annual Anniversary Observance takes place in mid-January with reenactments and special programs. 

Fort Fisher Underwater Archeology Center has uncovered historic gems dating back to the Civil War era, including the remains of 29 Civil War period shipwrecks off the coast of southeast NC. Most were blockade runners attempting to evade the Union ships and enter the Cape Fear River. Divers have also located four sunken Union warships and two Confederate gunboats. 

Oakdale Cemetery, established in 1852, was open for burials in 1855.  Within the grounds you will find the graves of Civil War Generals such as Whiting, Barry and MacRae to name a few. Confederate spy Rose O'Neale Greenhowe is also laid to rest here and there is an impressive monument to the Confederate Dead, overlooking the 367 graves within its enclosure. 

Orange Street Landing on Cape Fear was dedicated in May 2005 as part of the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom. Wilmington's largest known escape took place here in September 1862, when 22 freedom-seekers confiscated three sailboats and rowed 28 nautical miles to the mouth of the Cape Fear River. A kiosk interprets this freedom story. 

Sugarloaf Sand Dune at Carolina Beach State ParkHike the Sugarloaf Trail (a 3-mile journey beginning at the marina parking lot) that leads to the giant Sugarloaf sand dune where up to 6,400 Confederate troops under Major General Robert F. Hoke were encamped in defensive positions during the siege of Fort Fisher. 

Thalian Hall Center for Performing Arts (c.1855-1858) serves as the city's political and cultural center. During the Civil War, Thalian Hall was in almost constant use as a place of amusement for soldiers and locals alike. It was built by freed and enslaved Africans. The theatre’s main stage makes an appearance in the upcoming Smithsonian Channel documentary “Lincoln’s Last Day.” Thalian Hall’s designer John Montague Trimble is believed to have been involved in the design of Ford Theatre which may explain why they look so similar.    

Wilmington National Cemetery (c.1867). Civil War soldiers’ remains were reinterred to the National Cemetery from the Wilmington City Cemetery, Fort Fisher, and surrounding areas. The remains of the 557 U.S. Colored Troops (55 known, 502 unknown) who died on the advance to Wilmington are buried in the northwest corner of the cemetery. Their grave markers are identified with the inscription “U.S.C.T.” or “U.S. Col. Inf.” 

Wilmington Railroad Museum is housed in an authentic 1883 railroad freight warehouse. During the Civil War, the Wilmington and Weldon line was essential to the Confederacy and was referred to as the “Lifeline of the Confederacy.” The line moved goods and supplies from the single open Confederate port of Wilmington to Robert E. Lee’s Army in Virginia and throughout the Confederacy. The museum interprets Wilmington’s railroad history.

Nearby: Brunswick Town/Fort Anderson in Winnabow, N.C. was constructed atop the old Colonial village site of Brunswick Town during the Civil War and served as part of the Cape Fear River defenses below Wilmington before the fall of the Confederacy. Colonial foundations dot the present-day tour trail, which crosses the earthworks of the Confederate fort. On February 14-15, Fort Anderson will commemorate the 150thAnniversary of the Fall of Fort Anderson with a weekend of special events and programs. 

NearbyPoplar Grove Plantation in Scotts Hill, N.C. is one of the oldest existing peanut plantations in North Carolina.  The Foy family purchased the land in 1795 and kept it until the mid-1970s. Visitors can tour the 1850 manor house and observe farm animals, exhibits and live craft demonstrations typical of an 1800s working plantation. A new exhibit  "From Civil War to Civil Rights: The African American Experience at Poplar Grove" chronicles the lives of African Americans on-site at Poplar Grove from slavery to the early Civil Rights movement. (Note: Poplar Grove will reopen March 2, 2015 for its season.).

Where to Stay: 

Historic  Downtown Wilmington: Top Civil War Landmarks and Attractions in Wilmington, N.C.

As a coastal community, Wilmington and its' beaches have vacation homes to rent and many hotels to meet your travel needs. In the off-season, the beaches are also good bet for deals.  However, with North Carolina's mild temperatures and fun festivals, there is not really an off-season in this area any more.

Wrightsville Beach and the area near it, have an upscale feel with fine dining, shopping, and resorts for the family. For ocean views, the Holiday Inn Sunspree Resort and the Blockade Runner are places I would check-in. I've stayed in both, but it's been many years. The Blockade Runner recently went through a renovation to give it a more modern, beach feel. The Holiday Inn Resort has great activities for kids throughout all seasons, and offers an indoor pool for guests. My kids love those in the winter months. For those of you who know I have a passion for luxury hotels, the ones I mentioned would be the most luxurious for the area.

Historic Wilmington is filled with beautiful bed and breakfast inns, upscale chains, and small independent inns along the riverfront. Best Trip Advisor reviews go to the Best Western Plus Coastline Inn for its great staff and perfect river views. There is a new Courtyard by Marriott within walking distance of the riverfront that is getting lots of attention. It operates like a boutique property which interests me. The Hilton Wilmington Riverside is a full-service hotel with three restaurants in the historic district. I've stayed there many times, but have not stayed there since 2003 for a wedding. It has a lovely outdoor pool on the riverfront.

Carolina Beach and Kure Beach have  more basic type hotels. Some of which I would describe as budget. Several years ago, a Courtyard by Marriott opened and it offers a limited-service chain experience on the beach. The Courtyard would be my choice for this area probably, but I have not stayed or toured it. Traditionally, Carolina Beach and Kure Beach are more budget-friendly than its neighbor,Wrightsville Beach.  If you like clean and basic accommodations then you would be happy with some of the choices.

There are also many great hotel chains near the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, too. To plan your vacation to the Wilmington area and its' beaches, visit Wilmington Beaches.com 

My goal is to get down to Wilmington this year, and give your more views from my own perspective.

All photos for this story are courtesy of Wilmington Beaches. 

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